Better late than never, ‘Nutcracker’ show goes on

Gail Tassarotti, left, and Maria Bortugno chat online with Abbie Guisbond about arm placement for her "Excerpts from the Nutcracker" performance.

Gail Tassarotti, left, and Maria Bortugno chat online with Abbie Guisbond about arm placement for her "Excerpts from the Nutcracker" performance.

The pandemic has packed a punch when it comes to the arts, but a few local dancers have refused to throw in the towel. 

One result is “Excerpts from the Nutcracker,” a virtual performance from Albany Dance & Fitness that will run from Friday through Feb. 7. 

That’s a few weeks behind the group’s initial schedule, thanks in part to COVID-19, but for many it comes after a season devoid of the classic holiday ballet. 

Abbie Guisbond, an instructor at the studio, initially came up with the idea to host the production after she noticed local dance companies and schools canceling their traditional “Nutcracker” performances. 

“The reason I started dancing was because I saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 3 years old,” Guisbond said. “So the fact that a whole year is about to go by with no ‘Nutcrackers’ just made me upset. . . . That’s taking away an opportunity for a young girl, or anybody of any age, to see ‘The Nutcracker’ and have that exposure like I did.” 

After pitching the idea to the owner of the studio, Gail Tassarotti, the group got to work, holding auditions in the fall and casting nine dancers, ranging in age from teens to sexagenarians. 

“Originally, we were going to do a live performance via Zoom,” Tassarotti said. 

But in November and again in January, a few of the dancers in the production had to quarantine after potentially being exposed to COVID. Thus the group did what so many have had to do this past year: shift plans. They decided to record each excerpt instead of running it live. 

Each piece is choreographed by either Guisbond or Tassarotti. The excerpts include solos or duets so the dancers could maintain social distancing, and they’ve kept essential scenes from the classic ballet such as the nutcracker doll dance from the party scene, as well as the Sugar Plum Fairies dance and Waltz of the Flowers (though in their version, it’s a solo). 

They recorded the excerpts in the dance studio, having students come in one or two at a time. 

“We did all wear masks when we were dancing . . . which was quite difficult, I must admit. It’s hard enough to do a variation, but with a mask on…” Tassarotti said. 

One dancer, Mary Potts, who performed the role of Marzipan, said that being part of the production — one of her favorite ballets — brought her joy. 

“I think our production is so special because it came at a time when we all needed something to lift our spirits. And although it may be a little late, I think it’s never too late for a little holiday magic and cheer. I’m just so grateful that I was able to be a part of it,” Potts said. 

Albany Dance & Fitness doesn’t traditionally host a “Nutcracker” production, as when Tassarotti opened the studio nearly a decade ago she wanted to focus more on providing classes than performances. But having the production this year seems to have been good for the students. 

“I’ve had many of the performers thank me for going forward with this. It’s given them something to take their minds off of everything else that’s going on. It’s given them something to work toward,” Tassarotti said. 

It gave Guisbond something to look forward to as well. 

“While it was a whirlwind of different things here and there, and roadblocks . . . it was just so worth it in the end. As someone who’s done choreography before and done production, I feel like it’s just the most rewarding thing to see your own ideas and choreography come to life, whether it’s on a stage or not,” Guisbond said. 

Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a $5 minimum. All  proceeds will be donated to Dance Alliance and NYS Dance Force. 

“The arts are really suffering financially during these times, and we want to assist,” Tassarotti said. 

To purchase tickets, visit albanydancefitness.com.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette

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